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Sleeping Beauties: Shakespeare, Sleep and the Stage | Early Modern & Open Access

By July 20, 2014 No Comments

This is part of a weekly series here at TSS: Early Modern and Open Access regularly showcases peer reviewed articles (or other resources) of interest to early modernists that are freely available in open access formats.


Citation and Link

David Roberts, ‘Sleeping Beauties: Shakespeare, Sleep and the Stage,’  The Cambridge Quarterly.


A great deal has been written about dreams in literature and drama, but very little about sleep. Cornelia Parker’s 1995 exhibition The Maybe raised questions about the figure of the sleeping woman in visual, verbal and dramatic art. Excluded from the consciousness of the undreaming subject, audiences turn instead to the impact of her physical presence, the point of view offered them, and the ethical dilemmas of that point of view, for which the evolution of the Sleeping Beauty folk tale suggests a critical and anthropological framework. Shakespeare shows an abiding interest in the dramatic potential of the sleeping woman that extends from his early poetry to his late plays and comprehends a concern with the ethical problems posed for readers and spectators. This paper looks at the sources for Shakespeare’s representations, tracing the development of sleep scenes through Lucrece, Othello and Cymbeline, and uses them to interrogate recent critical treatments of the concept of visual desire in Renaissance and Restoration drama.

Shani Bans

Author Shani Bans

Shani Bans is an assistant editor at TSS and a PhD candidate at University College London. Her thesis, 'Optics in Shakespeare and his Contemporaries' - explores the relationship between optics and literature in early modern Europe, supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. Her other interests include: the culture of dissection in early modern drama, representation of ugly women; early modern science, medicine and technology; the history of Shakespearean criticism; Sidney circle; Miguel de Cervantes, Michel de Montaigne; Virginia Woolf; Hergé; Derrida and epistolarity.

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